by Karen Patterson
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and
only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other
people spend it for you.
Table of Contents
Can time management really be that important in the grand scheme of things?
With the myriad other things nagging at a library manager - hiring, training,
budgets, collection development, fundraising, customer service, and on
and on, does she have time to practice good time management? The answer
is obvious - what all these things have in common us that they require
time. If the librarian doesn't practice time management, she will likely
fail at the tasks she must succeed at to be a successful manager.
If a librarian is a poor time manager, she will not have time to thoroughly
research her previous annual budget to see where it was short. Consequently,
in a rush, she will submit essentially the same budget this year and find
herself in the same predicament - too few funds. If a librarian is a poor
time manager, she will not spend the time necessary on new employee interviews
and will wonder why her staff is so ill-suited to the requirements of the
library and why she spends so much time counseling her employees. If a
librarian is a poor time manager, she will find herself constantly working
just to keep up with the day-to-day requirements of her job, and she will
never find the time to develop a vision and a plan for achieving that vision.
And, she will be at her job late into the evening, long after the rest
of the staff have gone home. And that is the crux of time management.
When deciding if time management is important, consider why you should
manage your time. The old adage, "all work and no play makes Johnny a dull
boy," is absolutely true. A well-balanced life includes time for things
other than work: for things that are much more important than work; family
and friends, health and recreation, spiritual development and volunteerism,
among others. So, practicing time management at your job is not merely
so you get more work squeezed into an eight-hour day, but mostly so you
have time for the important things in life. There are plenty of books on
how to maintain focus in your life (several are listed in this chapter's
bibliography). That is not the topic of this chapter, but it is the reason
the tips provided here are so important.
To control your time, you need a very clear understanding of your priorities,
not only for a particular day, but also for your job and your life. This
requires constant planning, review, and revision. Take time every day to
determine what tomorrow's priorities are. Frequently and regularly review
the library's mission and goals; make sure that what you do forwards them.
Do the same thing with your life: determine what is important, and make
sure that you spend time forwarding those things. Focus, have goals, have
a plan, and time management will be easier, because you will have some
basis for the decisions and choices you will have to make.
This chapter provides some time-tested (sorry, couldn't resist the pun)
remedies for the refrain "there's never enough time." However, the most
important thing to remember, once you understand that time management is
crucial to your mental health, is that no time management plan will work
if it doesn't suit your personality. As you read the chapter, decide: will
this work for me; how can I modify this concept to fit the way I live;
what else can I come up with that fits my unique way of thinking? Try everything,
discard what doesn't work, and keep what does. For time management techniques
to succeed, you must fit them into your life style, not the other way around.
Just Say NO
Or, if that seems too harsh, practice "Let me think about it." Librarians
are service- oriented, therefore, may find it more difficult than other
people do to say no to any request. However, you must remember your priorities.
You are the manager; your role is different from librarians without management
responsibilities. Your staff is hired to provide customer service; your
job is to run an effective, efficient library. If you really can't bear
to say no to any request (including those from your church or the soccer
team), assertiveness training may be good for you.
Often people are uncomfortable turning down a request for one of several
reasons: they don't want to appear confrontational, they don't want to
seem to be rejecting the requestor, being asked to do things makes them
feel important, they feel that saying "no" will stymie their career, or
they like being incredibly busy.
To make saying "no" easier, review your priorities.
Determine if you are the best person to do the task, based on your priorities,
responsibilities and strengths. If not, delegate to an appropriate individual.
Delegation requires planning and follow up. It is discussed later in the
Don't postpone the decision. Say "no" quickly so the requestor can find
someone else to do the task. People appreciate honesty ("No, sorry but
I can't do that."). If a person says "yes" but is reluctant or unenthusiastic,
odds are they will not complete the task or will do a poor job. So better
to say "no" initially and let the requestor find someone who is enthusiastic
than to reluctantly say "yes" and do a poor job. It does not leave a good
impression of your capabilities or reliability.
Suggest solutions or alternatives when you say "no." Even if the request
does not meet your criteria for what you should spend your time on, you
may have some good ideas. Offer them.
Offer to do some part of the task (review the work product for example).
Make meetings work for you
Meetings can be huge time-wasters if you do not plan them carefully. First,
decide if you really need to hold a meeting? If there is a decision to
be made, can you make it yourself? Do not form a committee if you can make
the decision yourself. If you need to disseminate information would an
email work just as well? If a meeting is necessary, limit the attendance
to only those who really need to participate.
When you do have a meeting, plan it.
Put together an agenda and distribute it before hand. Stick to the agenda.
If other items come up, table them and add them to the end of the agenda
to be discussed in any allotted time remaining at the end of the current
meeting, or schedule another meeting, or delegate the item.
Establish a start and a stop time. Start on time, even if someone isn't
there. Don't penalize punctual people and reward tardy people. Control
the meeting so that the business is concluded by the stop time. Some people
monopolize meetings. It is your responsibility to ensure that everyone
gets to speak, and that the long-winded ones get to make their point, but
not over and over. You must also ensure that the meeting stays focused
on the agenda. It is easy to get off track and reach the end of the meeting
time without having accomplished its purpose.
If you really want a short meeting, don't provide chairs. Have people meet
in your office. Don't let anyone sit down. That signals that the meeting
is to be a brief one. People will quickly tire of standing, and the business
will be concluded in 10 mintes.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know the strengths and weaknesses of
your staff. Delegate tasks when you can. Remember that delegating does
two things: it frees your time for things that only you can do and it builds
your staff's abilities and self-esteem. Delegation requires some planning
and monitoring to be successful.
Define the project: its purpose, importance, deadlines, and the scope of
the delagatee's responsibilities.
Provide the necessary authority, resources and, support.
Delegate for results. Let your staff handle projects in their own way.
You are after results, not process.
Review progress and follow-up.
Interruptions are huge time-wasters. At the very least, they break your
train of thought. More often than not, you spend precious minutes on something
that is not important or urgent. Discourage people from dropping in without
an appointment to chat except at appointed times. Establish a time when
you are available if anyone needs to see you -- often right after lunch,
when most people are least productive, is a good time. People are free
to drop in then without an appointment. When someone comes in your office
at another time, politely ask the purpose of the visit. Determine if it
is important and urgent and needs your immediate attention. If it does
not, set up an appointment to meet with them.
Alternatively, establish a door policy. If your door is open, you are
available to your staff. If your door is shut, you are available for important
things only (its good to let your staff know what sort of things you consider
important). And if you absolutely do not want to be disturbed unless the
building is on fire or a crime has been committed, hang a "do not disturb"
sign on your closed door. If you use this system and are sparing with the
use of the sign, staff will generally respect your privacy.
Phone calls are sometimes more demanding than people. Train yourself
to let your phone roll over to voice mail. On your message, remind people
to be very specific about why they are calling so that when you return
their call, you can provide them with the information they are seeking.
That way, even if they are unavailable, you can leave them a message with
the information they need, thereby breaking the dreaded phone tag loop.
Return the courtesy. When you leave a message, be very specific about why
you are calling. Return all calls at one time. For example, return the
calls you received in the morning right before you go to lunch and return
the calls you receive in the afternoon before you go home. If you don't
have voice mail, ask someone to screen your calls and take messages, getting
enough information so that when you return the call, you are able to answer
Email can be a time-waster or a tremendous time-saver. Read and respond
to emails only at designated times during the day, for example at the beginning
of the day, before lunch, and again before you leave work. But, email is
an excellent way to convey information. It can be more precise than voice
mail, the sender and receiver have a record of the communication, more
information can be conveyed than through voice mail, and the information
can be conveyed at a convenient time.
Plan your day/week/month/year
But in reverse order. The best way to ensure that you accomplish the important
things is to spend time each day determining what you want to accomplish
the next day, or in the next week or the next month. Prioritize your tasks
so that if something unexpected comes up (as it inevitably will) the critical
things still get finished. Planning, more than any other activity, ensures
good time management. The time it takes to plan is well-spent. The makers
of daily planners (Day Timer ,
Quest, and Day Runner) all have training
classes and materials to help you learn to plan effectively. Planning is
a very individual thing and what works well for one person may not work
for the next person at all, therefore, take advantage of these materials.
They offer a variety of ways to plan, knowing that different people think
In general, draw up a daily list of things to do, and prioritize them
so you give the greatest time to the truly important tasks. When planning
your schedule consider what you know about yourself. Determine what time
of day you work best (often in the morning) and do the most difficult tasks
then. Do less pleasant tasks before the ones you enjoy - then you "reward"
yourself for your earlier hard work. Don't schedule your day to the minute.
Leave some unscheduled time each day to accommodate all those unexpected
things that always come up. Check off tasks as you finish them. Those checkmarks
give you a sense of accomplishment and help keep you motivated. Set aside
time each day to plan the next day, and to do long-range planning. During
that time, review not only what you accomplished that day and need to get
done the next, but what needs to get done in the next week, which of your
monthly goals can be done, what part of a long-range goal can be worked
Planning is the key, and deserves an entire chapter, not just a couple
of paragraphs. If you don't read anything else on time management, spend
some time reading about planning and perfecting a system of your own. The
characteristics of a successful planning system include that it is not
too cumbersome to use, and it works.
Do more of what you are good at and less of what you are not good at. If
you are a whiz at collection development but hate budgets, keep the collection
development tasks for yourself, and assign a staff person who likes working
with numbers to put together the first draft of the budget. Then review
it with her, and assume the responsibility to complete it, understand it,
and present it to management, since that is a responsibility of your job.
Just because you are responsible for a particular task does not mean that
you can not assign it.
Know when you are most productive. Keep that time sacrosanct. Discourage
all interruptions. Work on the tough stuff.
Know your most effective work style. Is it easier to focus on one project
until it is complete or to work on several things in parallel? Do you work
better alone or a part of a team? Which method of communication do you
prefer: visual (email) or aural (telephone). Use what you know about yourself
to make your work climate as amenable to your style as possible. If the
work environment is transparent to the worker, getting things done is easy.
Not being frustrated about simple logistics makes work easier and ultimately
Everyone procrastinates about some things. Determine those unpleasant tasks
you'd rather not do, and so put off until they become a crisis. Then, well
before they reach a crisis stage:
Set a deadline, which creates a sense of urgency, whether actual or artificial.
Do the most unpleasant part first. Then you can look forward to the more
enjoyable part of the task, and end the job on a positive note.
Make a game of it. Turn drudgery into fun.
Often procrastination is the result of being overwhelmed by the size of
the task. Break big tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces that are
easily done in several hours or a day. As you do each one, you will soon
realize that, small step by small step, you have almost completed the entire
Build in a reward, which provides an incentive to finish the task quickly.
Organize your office
Poorly organized people spend a great deal of time hunting for files and
important papers. Several books outline systems for organizing papers,
projects, filing systems, desks, and offices. Again, because this is very
personal, one system does not work for everyone. Invest in one of these
books and modify the suggestions so they work for you. A book about organization
is provided in the bibliography.
The tips provided here are obvious and easy to implement. As you work,
you will discover other ways to save time based on your job responsibilities,
the organization, even the physical layout of the facility. One last tip:
keep a picture in your office of what is really important to you - family,
pet, place, whatever is your top priority. It will remind you of why you
are working and why you should work smarter, not harder.
Smith, H. W. 1994. 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management:
Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace. Warner Books.
New York, New York.
McCarthy, K. W. 1992. The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense.
Pinon Press. Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Blumenthal, J. 1998. How to take control of your life and say "good-bye"
to stress. Bottom Line Personal 20(6): 9-10. March 15.
Winston, S. 1983. The Organized Executive: New Ways to Manage Time,
Paper, and People. Warner Books. New York, New York.
Brewer, K. C. 1991. Getting Things Done. National Press Publications.
Shawnee Mission, KS.
Truitt, M. R. 1991. The Supervisor's Handbook. National Press Publications.
Shawnee Mission, KS.
In addition, there are countless articles in popular and professional
magazines and journals. Time management is a popular topic. I did not include
any in the bibliography because they all present the same basic ideas and
techniques, and more articles are published every month. For a listing,
search on "time management" in any database.
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